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How can the idea of microcosm and macrocosm be applied to Hamlet and Macbeth?

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It is possible to offer a somewhat literalistic answer to this question. In both plays, much of the action focuses on the microcosm, or small world, of the corrupt royal courts. In the case of Hamlet, the microcosm is the Danish court ruled by Claudius, who murdered Hamlet's father to get the throne. In Macbeth, the microcosm is the world of Macbeth's and Lady Macbeth's court and their warped consciousnesses as they murder Duncan to gain the crown of Scotland, starting down a bloody path to more and more murder and finally to war.

In both cases, the corrupt rulers Claudius and Macbeth live in narrow worlds surrounded by the macrocosm, or larger world, of other nations. In both cases, this larger world literally invades their countries, promising a more stable future. Further, not only do rulers of other countries or exiled heirs invade, in both plays a larger world of the supernatural interferes early on in the lives of the main characters. In Hamlet's case, the ghost of his father tells him he was murdered and that the young Hamlet must avenge his death. In Macbeth's case, he encounters the supernatural world of the three witches, who foretell that Macbeth will be king.

In both cases, Shakespeare's thematic message is that the universe is larger and more complicated than it appears on the surface and that, therefore, it is hubristic for individuals to believe they can seize power in criminal ways and get away with it.

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A "microcosm" is an individual or community considered as a seperate universe; "macrocosm" is the entire great world as a whole.

In both of Shakespeare's plays the element of subplot is introduced (microcosm) as part of the whole (macrocosm).

Some examples in Macbeth are each individual existence of the noble families--the House of Fife, the House of Glamis, the House of Cawdor.  These are microcosms within the play since each of these families along with their families live in seclusion from the rest of Scotland in their own, self-sufficient lands.  Scotland, itself, is a microcosm in the play when you consider that Macduff and others have to seek aide outside of those borders to save her from Macbeth.  England, then, would be a greater part of the universe, and representative of macrocosm.

You could also consider the world of the witches, Hecate and all, as a microcosm. Existing entirely isolated from the world of the humans until they wish to interfere and stir up trouble.

In Hamlet, you also have a microcosm of the paranormal--King Hamlet's ghost as well as Banquo's ghost who exist in a world divided from the whole of humanity.  There is the the microcosm of Denmark and the back story of the war which is wholly divided from the picture of events ocurring in Hamlet's castle and world.  In this play, there is also the world of the actors and the world they create which can be considered a microcosm.  Hamlet also sets himself apart from the rest of the macrocosm within psychological self during his decision-making process.

These are just some jumping-off places.  Maybe you will be able to come up with other examples!  Good Luck!

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